Nichols and Welby back abuse inquiry

09 July 2014 | by Ruth Gledhill

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, pledged their full backing for the new public enquiry into the handling of child abuse allegations by public institutions.

The inquiry's chairwoman, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the retired senior judge who is former president of the family division of the high court, has wide experience in the field. She was vice-chairwoman of the Cumberlege Commission, which reported on Catholic Church safeguarding policies in 2007. She also chaired a review of historic child sex abuse problems in the Church of England's Chichester diocese, as a result of which a clergyman was convicted in 2008.

At the Church of England’s General Synod in York this weekend, survivors of sexual abuse by ministers and clergy will meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The eight members of Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS) will be call on the archbishop for a "complete change of culture and behaviour in the Church".

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who is chairman of the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Committee, said he believed the country had a problem with this kind of abuse and said it was important that victims had their stories heard and received justice.

"We're really pleased there's been quite a shift and that an inquiry is now taking place," he told the Press Association.

He said that Archbishop Welby, with support of Cardinal Nichols and the president of the Methodist Conference, Kenneth Howcroft, wrote to the Home Secretary more than a month ago calling for a full public inquiry into institutional child abuse.

"A full public inquiry is required because under those terms people have to take oaths and therefore swear to tell the truth. My fear is the whole story won't come out without that.”

"We're absolutely clear that the Church of England and other Churches need to be involved in this inquiry as we already know there are parts of our history that involve church people having committed abuse.

"So we have to be investigated just like anybody else and there will probably be some unpleasant and difficult stories to handle, and I accept that's part of the reality.

"We think there is a real problem around institutional abuse, so schools, civil service, police, politicians and the Church, we need to try and get to the bottom of why people can get into institutions and use those institutions as a safe place to abuse.

The Stop Church Child Abuse alliance of survivor support groups welcomed the announcement by the Home Secretary Theresa May of the inquiry.

David Greenwood, the chairman, said: "We don’t yet know the scale of the abuse and the extent of the cover-ups. This inquiry should lift the veil on these unknowns. Knowledge of what has happened in the past will empower law-makers in the future to improve safeguarding procedures in the Church and other institutions."

David Pearson, founder director of the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, backed calls for mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to the police.

He said such a requirement would in time “change the entire culture of safeguarding in this country” by holding people accountable in law should they fail to act promptly where abuse is known or suspected.

Above: Archbishop Justin Welby during news conference in London and Cardinal Nichols in a 2010 picture in London. Photos: CNS photo/Neil Hall, Reuters, CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

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